La Sportiva The B5 Approach Shoe

The approach shoe has always been a welcome member of my footwear collection. Or maybe that should be "well abused" member. I've had a few pairs now over the years and managed to wreck most of them in lightning quick time. Maybe it's because of the multitude of tasks that I ask them to perform. Town and pub duties, gravel tracks, bog and scree, grass, wet and dry rock, out on the bike, frigid winter days: they're expected to do it all. This usually results in holes in the uppers, peeling sole units oh, and a skunk-like stench. So what are most "approach shoes" actually designed for?

A side profile of the B5. Note the rubber rand on the toe and heel area and the dual-density midsole., 50 kb
A side profile of the B5. Note the rubber rand on the toe and heel area and the dual-density midsole.
© Kevin Avery-UKC

"The term "Approach Shoe" is very loosely bandied around, but ideally it should mean a lightweight shoe suitable for summer approaches to high crags and possibly for carrying up your climb to wear on the descent."

This description I would tend to agree with, but obviously some shoes are going to do the job better than others. Furthermore, frequency of use and what they're used for are both going to affect performance and longevity.

The B5

The B5's sole unit: Frixion XT rubber, Impact Brake System and "climbing zone" in the forefoot area, 39 kb
The B5's sole unit: Frixion XT rubber, Impact Brake System and "climbing zone" in the forefoot area
© Kevin Avery-UKC

The B5 is part of La Sportiva's "approach" line of shoes. It is designed for technical approaches on rock, via ferratas and general wandering in the outdoors. The shoe is constructed from suede leather and features a protective rubber rand on both the toe and heel areas. It is lined with synthetic mesh to aid breathability thus keeping your feet cool and getting rid of odors. The fit is quite asymmetrical (close to the shape of an actual foot) for a shoe of this type which is meant to give it a more precise feel and aid its actual rock-climbing performance. The B5 has a dual density midsole (one piece of microporous midsole foam and another of graded microporous foam) and these are supposed to work together to give a good balance between comfort, shock absorbency and weight. The principle is similar to that used in bouldering crash-pads where you have a firmer layer of closed cell foam on top with a softer open cell foam underneath (and sometimes a firmer layer on the bottom too.) Combining the two densities mean that you get a comfortable impact without the risk of "bottoming out."

The sole features a "rocker" (this means it's not flat and usually makes walking feel easier/more natural) and is covered in Frixion XT rubber. This is the rubber that La Sportiva use with there dual-density midsole system and it is designed to offer high levels of grip on all surfaces as well as being durable. Furthermore the sole sports an IBS or Impact Brake System (which has been developed in collaboration with Vibram) and is supposed to enhance grip and soften the impact when pounding on the ground. Finally the area under the forefoot of the shoes has been give a "climbing zone," an area of rubber which is designed to aid the B5's performance on easier rock climbs.

How long have I used them for?

I have used the B5's for a little over two months now. They have marched round the forests of Fontainebleau, yomped the moors of Yorkshire and braved the soft snow and ice-glazed pavements of my local streets. They have even tackled some easy rock climbs and boulder problems.

How have they performed?

Kevin Avery out gear testing at Ilkley, 132 kb
Kevin Avery out gear testing at Ilkley
© Kevin Avery-UKC
The first thing I always look at when I put a new pair of shoes, trainers or boots on is the fit. When I first put the B5's on I was a little concerned as they almost felt a little too narrow for me. However once I'd had them on for a short while they did seem to soften up a bit. Perhaps the close feeling fit is down to the fact that this is quite a precise fitting shoe therefore it is going to feel a little neater around the foot than something that is constructed on less of an asymmetric last. The precise fit does have its merits on less straight forward terrain and easier rock climbs and scrambles though, as it enables you to place your foot and get some feedback from what you are standing on. This was noticeable on some easier problems and circuits that I encountered in Fontainebleau and whilst the B5 is far from a rock shoe I would happily undertake the odd easier (very easy!) route in them if need be. When it came to walking they performed fabulously, being comfortable and supportive even on long outings in the local hills. Much of this comfort is down to the "rockered" sole unit as well as the dual density midsole whilst the Frixion XT rubber offered an assured grip. In fact the only times I felt unsure were on wet rock slabs and steep, soggy grass slopes but then again there are few things that can truly "stick" to these unpredictable surfaces. The simple lacing system meant the B5 always felt secure on the foot and I never encountered any heel slippage.

In terms of durability the shoes have been fantastic. The sole unit, despite over two months of heavy wear has hardly worn at all and the uppers remain immaculately intact. This is possibly down to the burly heel and toe rands but as I've had other shoes with similar features in the past and they have self-destructed in no time, then I think some credit has to be given to La Sportiva's build quality.

If I had anything negative to say about these shoes then it would come down to practicality in certain situations (something that can be said of all shoes of this type.) The B5 is a shoe not a boot. It is not lined with a waterproof membrane so if you are walking through wet and boggy ground then there is a good chance that you are going to get wet feet! This will happen quickly if it comes over your ankles although I actually found that the leather uppers did a reasonable job keeping the water out if it wasn't too deep.


The B5 is a comfortable and precise fitting approach shoe that I would use for everything from dog-walking along the canal to flogging up to the East Buttress of Scafell. They are incredibly durable, lightweight and they look the part too. The sole is grippy in all but the trickiest of conditions. On the downside you may get wet feet as they are not 100% waterproof. The fit took a little bit of getting used to for me but once I'd worn them in, they felt pretty near to perfect.

Price: £80
Weight: 800 grams per pair

For more information visit La Sportiva Website
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